The number of cities with two or more newspapers has shrunk to a handful. But all big cities still have one paper.
Not much longer. New Orleans will become the first major city without a daily newspaper when the Times-Picayune shifts to three-times-a-week publication this fall (with web updates the rest of the week). This is going to become more common, with Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile, Ala., also cutting back (though they’re not what I’d classify as big), and recent near-death experiences at the San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newark Star-Ledger, among others. Though conservatives may experience some schadenfreude at the prospect of no-newspaper towns, we’re going to miss them when they’re gone.
That said, you could make an argument that once a city loses its second newspaper, it might be better to have none at all. Politico’s media blogger doesn’t make quite that point in a recent post, but referring to the loss of the competing papers in Seattle, Denver, and Tucson, he notes, “Far from consolidating readership and revenue, the death of a city’s second newspaper inadvertently introduces all the risks — and none of the rewards — of the monopoly. Namely, there is less incentive to produce a high quality product.”
Bloggers and weeklies of various stripes can pick up some of the slack of the disappearance of newspapers, but not all of it, because they just haven’t been able to generate the kind of revenue it takes to hire people to cover the school board and zoning commission meetings, meaning lots more people are going to get away with lots of stuff they shouldn’t be doing. The legacy media present themselves as society’s watchdogs, and they often have been. At the same time, conservatives have rightly wondered who watches the watchdogs, and have exposed the mendacity of Dan Rather and his ilk. But what happens when the watchdogs are gone?